armchairquarterblog

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 13, 2011 at 10:16 am

AUGUSTA, Ga.–There lots to love about the Masters, the first major championship of the season. A world-famous, immaculately maintained and landscaped golf course, the best-buy ticket in all of professional sports ($200 for a four-day badge), storied champions, rich traditions and more memorable moments than you can shake a 9-iron at.

And yet, there is plenty to dislike, as well. At the risk of jeopardizing our annual press credentials, the following list represents the dark side of the exclusive club and its famous April event.

But first, a shameless plug. This is one of more than 130 golf lists between the covers of a new book, authored by myself and former Chicago Tribune golf writer Ed Sherman, released just this week. It’s called “Golf List Mania” published by Running Press and now available on Amazon and your favorite bookstore, as well. It’s a $15 steal of a deal, much like the $3 beers and $2 egg salad sandwich you can purchase at concession stands all around the pretty premises here.

And now for Augusta National: The Bad and The Ugly:

10. Hold The Cheese: The club’s signature green, cellophane-wrapped pimento cheese sandwich sold for a proper pittance at concession stands ought to come with a free sample of Pepto-Bismol. Plaster that yellowish goop between a few bricks and you could build a pretty cheesy new clubhouse wing.

9. Bibs Are For Babies: Not for the poor caddies forced to don those white one-piece, long-pant coveralls that make an already tough march around the hilly property a sweat-soaked nightmare for the lowly loopers. It’s one de-humanizing tradition the toon-a-ment could easily get along without.

8. Oh The Hypocrisy: Augusta National counts among its members a number of former past presidents of the United States Golf Association, the governing body of the sport charged, among other noble goals, with making the game accessible to one and all. Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate for all of them not to pay dues to a club that has never allowed female members?

7. Outside The Ropes: The Masters is the only event on the PGA Tour schedule that does not allow credentialed media to cover the sport from inside the gallery ropes — a major handicap for enterprising golf writers trying to give readers more than what they just watched on television. Tough to judge how long that putt was when you’re at the back end of a 10-deep crowd around the green.

6. Hypocrisy Continued: Augusta National is listed as a main sponsor of The First Tee, a nationwide initiative designed to attract youngsters, especially inner city kids, to the game. Last time we checked, the boys and girls enrolled in the city of Augusta’s First Tee program have never been invited to play the Augusta National course or even use its world-class practice facility, though they do get a few free tickets to the Masters. How generous.

5. Fan Patronizing: A golf fan is a golf fan everywhere, that is, except Augusta National, where they are pretentiously referred to as patrons. And poor Jack Whitaker, the long-time CBS Sports broadcaster and essayist who, in 1966, described a gaggle of spectators as a “mob” on the air. The next year, and for many more after that, he was asked to stay home.

4. A Little Reverence: Surely that must be in the User’s Guide for all CBS and ESPN broadcasters assigned to The Masters telecasts. Hushed tones are mandatory, and hold the one-liners, thank you very much Gary McCord. On the air, he once described Augusta National’s warp-speed greens being as slick as bikini wax. The next year, he was Whitaker-ed off the broadcast team forever.

3. User Unfriendly: As much as The Lords of The Masters say they care about their precious patrons, they don’t do much about the outrageous ticket scalping going on outside their gates or on the internet. During the practice rounds, while attendance figures are never divulged, crowds of 60,000 or more swarm around the course, making for a mob scene behind the ropes, a clogged elbow-to-elbow merchandise area and long lines at the beer counters leading to even longer lines (and uncomfortable waits) to use the restrooms. Oh yes, during regulation play, there are no walking standard-bearers conveniently showing spectators the scores of every player in the group, a standard feature of every other event on the schedule.

2. For Shame: It took until 1975 for the first African American player, Lee Elder, to “qualify” for The Masters, even if Charles Sifford should have been invited years earlier when he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open. Not until the PGA Tour mandated that all clubs hosting an official event not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or gender did Augusta National admit its first African American member in 1990. The club won’t disclose anything about the make-up of its membership, but you could probably count the number of African-American and Jewish members on two hands. Maybe one.

1. Where The Girls Aren’t: The club has no female members, though women at least are allowed to play the golf course as guests. You want more hypocrisy? How about the PGA Tour recognizing all Masters statistics and prize money in its official stats, including the money list and world rankings, despite its much-ballyhooed anti-discrimination policies. The Tour reasons that since Augusta National runs this major event, not the Princes of Ponte Vedra, and all of their players would kill to participate, they have no power to force the issue. Oh please.

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